Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I Write

I had the loveliest thing ever happen to me last week, and I've been hemming and hawing over whether or not to share it here, because it might sound a little like I'm tooting my own horn. But I've decided to share because, ultimately, this little story is about writing--and why I, personally, write.

While I was in Denver, overwhelmed by the number of successful writers around me, it was easy to feel a little discouraged. Sure, I have three poems published in a delightful anthology, but the high from one's first publication can only last so long before a writer starts feeling pressure for another publication, and then another and another. But then, I went back to our hotel one night, and found a positively uplifting email in my inbox.

It went a little something like this: A woman, a librarian in upstate New York, emailed me and told me that she loved Naomi Shihab Nye, and had run out and picked up her anthology as soon as she heard about it. When she finished reading the book, she looked back at her favorite poems, and realized that a lot of them were, well, written by me. She could have simply ended the email right there, and I would have been giddy simply knowing that I had stood out in a anthology of 25 poets to someone out there. But, she continued: at a faculty meeting at her school, she had decided she wanted to read my poem, "Rain, Snow, and Other Weather," at the beginning of the meeting. She read aloud, but when she got to the last two lines, she found herself crying and unable to finish. One of her co-workers had to finish reading the last lines for her.

This, my friends, is why I write. And in the literary community, in an MFA program, and surround by successful writers, it is sometimes easy to forget about this. Many people write to be "artsy," to be published, or to make money. But what I've always loved about reading was how it could touch you, how the words could leap off the page and mean something, even though they came from someone else's mind, someone else's experience. In the past, I've been told that my poetry is "sentimental" and often, there is a touch of distain that comes with that word, especially when uttered by writers who reach only for the artistic. But me, I'm fine with being sentimental if it means that I can touch the average person, if it means that my writing can go beyond just the literary community, and into the lives of those who might not have an MFA or a PhD, who let my words show them a mirror of themselves.

L. Stacks


Dustin M. Flickinger said...

Hi Lauren! I sort of just stumbled over to your blog. I hope you don't mind me reading it. I always think it's interesting to see why each person writes or why each person enrolls in an MA/MFA/PhD program. About five years ago when I first started considering post-graduate work I thought that everyone wrote and pursued higher education for the same reasons as I had. (Yeah, I have more "artsy" aspirations.) But I soon discovered there are many reasons to write, read and study. Some do it for the sheer joy of it while others see it as a step in a career,etc. I don't think of sentimentality as being a weakness in writing if that is what the writing is striving to accomplish...just like I imagine you don't see purely artistic endeavors as pointless. Anyhoo, to avoid pointless rambling...nice post!

scottiedawg said...

Could you post the poem? Or are you going to tease us and make us buy the anthology?

Alison said...

I love this post. I share your sentiments on writing, almost exactly.

Also just wanted to say: your blog is lovely! I'm a little envious of how nicely designed it looks. My blog looks a little, uh, amateur. Yours does not. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

Lauren Stacks said...

Dustin--Of course I don't mind you reading it... that's what it's here for :) Thanks for the comment, I agree with what you say... it's important to let each person write for their own reason, and to celebrate that rather than try to mush us all into one category.

Scott--done. But you must buy the anthology if you want to read the other 3 poems!

Alison--Thank you! Is it creepy that I found your blog after my fiance cut out your little blurb in the redeye a few months ago because he thought it would be helpful?

Alison said...

Not creepy. Hilarious.